It gave us a deeper look into the wonderful world of Aperture Science without completely dragging all of its mysteries out into the light. It also mixed its “thinking with portals” puzzles up even further by weaving in gel mechanics that felt entirely fresh and completely natural at the same time - while simultaneously and subtly using them to tie gameplay mechanics into the story, patiently waiting until its incredible finale to pay off those setups with one of the weirdest and most spectacular video game endings around. Couple that with a seriously good co-op campaign and even a full-on custom level builder and sharing systems added post-launch and Portal 2 has stayed the high bar by which all first-person puzzle games should be measured, even nearly a decade later.
“You have died of dysentery.” The Oregon Trail’s notorious proclamation of ultimate doom was only part of the software’s brutal charm. As a simulation of Westward Expansion consisting of choose-your-own-adventure strategy and hunt-to-survive gameplay, it was rudimentary. But in part because it was originally developed in 1971 by three student teachers at Carleton College in Minnesota as an educational tool, The Oregon Trail found a captive—and willing—audience in thousands of classrooms across the country equipped with Apple II computers in the 1980s. There, it helped introduce an entire generation (several, in fact) to video games.
The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link laid the foundations Link’s quest, but it was A Link to the Past that built the land of Hyrule into a world. From it’s unforgettable beginnings guiding a swordless Link through the rain, to the final showdown with Ganon and utilizing mastery of sword and bow to defeat evil, Link to the Past measured out a perfect pace of dungeons, exploration, and a gripping narrative that was almost unheard of at the time. It’s open landscape was always inviting but never felt aimless – striking the perfect balance of freedom and purpose in your quest to save Princess Zelda.
What hooks you in, however, is just how perfectly measured the core gameplay loop of killing, looting and upgrading is. Whether you’re just starting out or wading through Hell with a hardcore character, Diablo II has a momentum that’s impossible not to be swept up in. The odds are always overwhelming, the atmosphere always malevolent, and the reward always worth the risk.
But its story was only half of its success. Halo was quite simply one of the best multiplayer shooters ever upon its release, thanks to its incredible complement of weapons (two-shot death pistol FTW!) that mixed seamlessly with third-person-controlled vehicles across a swath of classic maps like Blood Gulch, Sidewinder, Hang 'em High, and more. That it was all set to the chanting-monks theme song that, like the game itself, became legendary.

Half-Life 2 showed us in 2004 how a developer could approach a genre (the first-person shooter) given to bang and bluster, and dignify it with a mind-bending dystopian tale that at times rivaled the literary. Taking up as a weaponized theoretical physicist, players explored a paranoiac's world, questioning the nature of everything as they cut through waves of alien Combine before taking hold of an ingenious tool that made gravity itself a plaything. Alas, like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood or Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, we may never know how protagonist Gordon Freeman's tale ends. But it's a measure of how deeply studio Valve's work resonated, that when it comes to lists of most anticipated sequels, gamers talk of little else.


Sure, there's undeniable nostalgia associated with this 1986 NES classic, but there's no arguing how engrossing the original Zelda was to play. Mixing upgradable weapons with a (then) sprawling map and some pretty good puzzles, Link's original adventure delivered an experience unlike anything console players had experienced. Shigeru Miyamoto, the game's legendary designer, set out to create a world that felt like a "miniature garden that [players] can put inside their drawer." And through the cartridge's ability to save games (the first console title to offer the option) they could do exactly that. Instead of toiling to beat Zelda in a single sitting, players could instead pace themselves, scrutinizing every last nook and cranny of Hyrule at leisure—an obsession that's continued through all 18 games (and counting) in this storied series.
What hooks you in, however, is just how perfectly measured the core gameplay loop of killing, looting and upgrading is. Whether you’re just starting out or wading through Hell with a hardcore character, Diablo II has a momentum that’s impossible not to be swept up in. The odds are always overwhelming, the atmosphere always malevolent, and the reward always worth the risk.
The story of Ness, Paula, Jeff, and Poo's journey across a strange, slanted version of America was such a vast departure from previous RPGs I'd played like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. It wasn't drenched in fantasy tropes and pathos, but rather brimming with color, humor, and some of the weirdest characters and events I'd ever seen in a game. Simultaneously, it knows how to pack an emotional punch.
Portal undoubtedly came out of nowhere and shattered the mold, but Portal 2 took that raw and incredible concept and managed to shape it into a more polished and impressive package. It cranked the dials up on just about everything that made the original so special. The mind-bending puzzles, the surprisingly dark story, and the ridiculous humor that balanced it out - each piece of that picture was refined and refreshed to build a sequel that actually surpassed the ambition of an already extremely ambitious game, making something both familiar and altogether new.
Nearly every facet of Sony Santa Monica's Norse epic is working in concert with one another to craft a thrilling, memorable, and engrossing adventure. From its haunting score, to the beautifully written and acted story of Kratos and Atreus, to the incredible feel of the Leviathan Axe, God of War's impressive craftsmanship shines through at every step, honoring the past while forging its own path.
In nearly three decades no game has supplanted Super Mario World as the best game ever made... Which is stupid. I’ll get to that in a bit. Super Mario World is a relatively simple game to describe. It’s a Super Mario game, and we all know what that means: Mushrooms; perfect running and jumping action; and a giant world to explore, crammed with secrets.

If you’re doing it right, you’ve named each of your very mortal soldiers after your friends and family, making the inevitable casualties you’ll take in combat sting far more than losing nameless fodder. Randomly generated maps ensure you never quite know what might be lurking around the next corner, and destructible terrain means that knocking down a building is always an option. The unpredictability makes the feeling of going from scrappy underdog to elite alien-butt-kicking futuristic super soldier squad incredibly rewarding, every single time. Except when you lose horribly.
And as is typical of Blizzard as a studio, Diablo II can be played on countless different levels. I never even touched most of what the game had to offer, but ultimately I didn’t need to. The simple joy of wading through thick knots of enemies with my necromancer and his summoned brood of skeletons and mages, setting off chains of corpse explosions and painting the world red was an end game in itself.

^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg ch ci cj ck cl cm cn co cp cq cr cs ct cu cv cw cx cy cz da db dc dd de df dg dh di dj dk dl dm dn do dp dq dr ds dt du dv dw dx dy dz ea eb ec ed ee ef eg eh ei ej ek el em en eo ep eq er es et eu ev ew ex ey ez fa fb fc fd fe ff fg fh fi fj fk fl fm fn fo fp fq fr Polygon Staff (November 27, 2017). "The 500 Best Video Games of All Time". Polygon.com. Archived from the original on March 3, 2018. Retrieved December 1, 2017.


Taking it a step further, those cutscenes were paired with some truly talented voice acting and narrative design. As I played through the storyline I learned to love the different little characters I interacted with and felt genuine anger when the Zerg managed to capture Kerrigan and bend her to their will. This character had been with you through thick and thin and after she's captured you, of course, begin the mission to rescue her.
This was one of those games you could easily lose hours playing, either alone or with friends. Among our nerdy cadre, there was no greater source of joy, sorrow, or white-hot rage than Burnout 3. Few things could ruin a friendship faster than wrecking someone's ride just before the finish line – though thankfully all was (usually) forgotten during the next round of Crash Mode.
×